Whitfield’s eighth grade science course has an activity-based curriculum that emphasizes the importance of trial and error, conceptual design, and precise measurement using the metric system.
Working in groups of three, students recently designed and constructed paper rockets to practically apply Newton’s Laws of Motion and simple chemistry. Using a 35mm plastic film canister as the rocket’s base, each group constructed six rockets complete with nose cone, fins, or wings, and fired them from indoor ‘launch pads’ set up in Woods Hall.
The rockets were powered by pressure generated from an effervescing antacid tablet reacting with water. To fly their rockets, students added water and an antacid tablet to the film canister. After quickly replacing the canister’s lid, the rocket was placed on the launch pad. When the water dissolved the antacid tablet, the resulting chemical reaction created a build-up of carbon dioxide and pressure inside the film canister. Finally, the cap was forced off creating the necessary thrust to launch the rocket.
The groups conducted a series of launches varying the amount of water and the amount of antacid tablet to achieve the maximum height. Students also analyzed how the rockets’ design and mass impacted their flight.
The project concluded with a contest between groups in each class section to determine which group had constructed the rocket that reached the highest elevation.
“This is a great lab for our unit on Newton’s Laws,” said faculty member Jeff Cacciatore. “All three Laws are applied and/or demonstrated with the rocket launches and the students have some fun.”
Jack Courtney ’23 and Aiden Cizek ’23 appreciated the hands-on lab.
“This project was a fun break from working in our classroom,” said Courtney. “I learned how to adjust the rocket’s design and the amount of water in the canister so that it would go higher.”
“I learned that taking risks can pay off by using different combinations in the design—the height and mass of the rocket, the amount of water and antacid tablets,” said Cizek. “Doing that research to find the correct proportions to use for your rocket definitely benefits your results.”